Richmond Street entertainment venue gets nod from Rules Committee

City Council will soon consider a zoning bill that would allow a large music and entertainment venue to open on Richmond Street. The bill, introduced by First District Councilman Frank DiCicco, passed out of the Rules Committee Tuesday.

The venue would be operated by Live Nation.

“It is by no means a nightclub,” said attorney Ronald Patterson, who represents developer David Grasso. “It is for sure an entertainment venue.”

“It will be the premier location to see live music in the city,” said Grasso.

Patterson and Grasso testified that the project would have no impact on traffic or parking, since it is so close to the Girard Avenue exit of I-95 and public transportation, and sufficient parking would be provided on-site.

But representatives of Fishtown, New Kensington and Olde Richmond civic associations don’t see it that way, and they testified against the bill.

Peg Rzepski of Olde Richmond Civic Association said whatever Grasso calls it, it is a nightclub. And her organization is worried about patrons pouring out into their neighborhood after shows and other nuisances.

Tom Potts, of New Kensington Community Development Corporation, and Neil Brecher, of Fishtown Neighbors Association, said that the development should not be considered until the I-95 project is complete in the area. Richmond Street will be closed for a long time, and the way to and from the club will be through the neighborhoods, they said.

DiCicco, Patterson and Grasso said the project fits in with the city’s vision for a revived Central Delaware Waterfront. Sarah Thorp, manager of the Central Delaware Waterfront Master Plan for the quasi-city agency overseeing it, wouldn’t comment on that. “We are withholding judgment on proposed projects until the master plan has been released and approved by the public and the city planning commission,” she said in an email.  The plan does call for entertainment venues in that part of town, which it identifies as a transition zone between residential and industrial.

DiCicco, Patterson and Grasso also said the project would bring life, light and safety, to an crime-ridden area that now is dark and has virtually no legal activity at night.

But Philadelphia Police 26th District Captain Michael Cram testified that the area is quiet now, and does not strain his district’s resources. He said he was worried that the new venue would require more police work in the area. “My concern is, would it impact our ability to serve the 26th district,” he said.

The legislation on the table would literally change the zoning of the area bounded by Richmond Street, Cumberland Street, Beach Street and Schirra Drive to allow a night club use.

In response to a question from Councilman-at-Large Bill Greenlee, Planning Commission development division director Bill Kramer said the words “night club” are used because this is the language used in the zoning code and what L&I needs to see to know what to do about permits.

DiCicco, who also sponsored the legislation that created the overlay district banning nightclubs from which the venue seeks relief, said he would not propose anything that would allow for the kind of nightclub that used to trouble Delaware Avenue.

But Greenle wanted to know whether a nightclub could be approved within the area where the restriction was lifted, as there are several other properties within the boundaries.

“Yes sir, it’s a risk,” Kramer said.

DiCicco said the developer was going to have a provisional liquor license, so that if anything other than this venue planned to open on the site, the owner would have to go through the arduous liquor control board process all over again.

The committee voted in favor of the bill, with Greenlee and Fifth District Councilman Darrell Clarke voting against it. Clarke said while the project is not in his district, his district is adjacent, and he has heard concerns from residents.

The bill could be up for a final vote at council’s June 16 meeting. DiCicco said he believes he has the votes to pass it.

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